It was a very good (growing) year

Carole Curtis

Madison — A look back over the 2016 growing season is enough to gladden many a farmer's heart. Despite a few hiccups, it was a really good year.
As laid out in the "2016 Wisconsin Crop Progress Review", the planting season opened with soggy field conditions and below normal snow cover due to a warm, wet March. Wet soils in the northern portions of the state delayed the start of tillage and planting there. But fields dried up quickly in the southern portions of the state, and warm, sunny weather during April accelerated early fieldwork in those areas.
A hard frost in early May damaged some fruit blossoms and emerging crops, though most new plantings bounced back quickly. Rainfall was patchy and intermittent in May and June, providing plenty of days suitable for fieldwork.
Planting and emergence of all the major crops trended slightly behind the 2015 pace but well ahead of the five-year average.
July, August and September brought hot weather, high humidity and frequent rains that boosted crop growth and kept crops, overall, in good to excellent condition.
However, the frequent rains disrupted hay harvest and contributed to major flooding in northern and western Wisconsin. Severe storms dropped up to 10 inches of rain, damaging crops in low lying area and pushing soil moistures to very high levels that disrupted fieldwork in areas not directly damaged by flooding. 
In all, the report said, eight counties declared a state of emergency due to flooding in July and another 13 counties declared emergencies in September.
Above normal temperatures and rainy conditions continued into the fall. Though crop development trended ahead of average for all crops during the 2016 season, harvest activates in September and October trailed averages due to wet field conditions and high grain moistures.
The first frost of the season hit in northern Wisconsin during the week ending October 11, several weeks later than normal. The southern part of the state did not receive the first frost until the week ending November 13.
The city of La Crosse broke its record for latest frost ever recorded on November 9, compared to November 7, 1900.
November brought an extended stretch of dry, clear weather and above normal temperatures, allowing farmers to catch up on harvest and tillage. On Nov. 27, fall tillage was 86 percent complete, two percentage points above the previous year.


Statewide, temperatures started off above normal with March temperatures 6.3 degrees above normal and  April through September 1.3 degrees above normal.
The report noted April was the only month with below normal temperatures, averaging 1.1 degrees below normal.
The remaining growing season months ranged from 0.8 degrees above normal in May and July to 3.9 degrees above normal in September. October averaged 4.0 degrees above normal and November was 8.6 degrees above normal.

Rainfall totals

Although precipitation totals for April through September were above normal for much of Wisconsin, they were below normal in the southeast district.
The report marked the statewide total at 27.34 inches, 3.54 inches above the total for 2015 and 4.91 inches above normal. April and May had normal to below normal precipitation across the state, while June through September had above normal precipitation on average.
September was the month with the greatest departure from normal, with 2.22 inches above normal for the state.
By district, departures from normal for April through September ranged from 0.89 inches below normal in the southeast district to 7.90 inches above normal in the southwest district.


Thanks to the early spring thaw, corn planting rolled quickly to a wrap in late May, more than two weeks earlier than the five-year average.
Warm temperatures and abundant moisture kept corn development well ahead of both last year and the five-year average throughout the summer. Corn condition averaged 86 percent good to excellent for the season, compared to 80 percent good to excellent in 2015.
Frequent rains in August and September delayed silage chopping in some areas, but overall silage harvest was about five days ahead of average, wrapping up around October 23.
High plant moistures and muddy field conditions kept the grain harvest in line with the five-year average through October, but November provided plenty of clear, warm days for farmers to wrap up fall harvest.
The grain corn harvest topped 96 percent on November 27, with excellent yields reported across most of the state. However, a lack of storage space for grain, along with isolated wet spots, meant some pockets of corn were still standing at the end of November.


Soybeans planting also took off in early May and wrapped up in mid-June, two weeks ahead of the five-year average. The emergence, blooming and setting pods stages all ran well ahead of average, thanks to warm weather and adequate rainfall in June and July.
Soybeans condition averaged 85 percent good to excellent for June through mid-October, compared to 81 percent the previous year.
In August and September, frequent rains and oversaturated soils pushed the leaves turning and dropping phases back to one week ahead of average instead of two. The wet conditions sparked isolated reports of mold and other diseases in late summer and early fall, although yields were above normal across most of the state.
The wet weather also stalled the start of the bean harvest. September ushered in good weather that allowed producers to get 97 percent of the crop off by November 13, in line with the five-year average.


Oats planting started off slightly behind average, but accelerated quickly as wet fields dried out.  Both planting and emergence were complete by mid-May, about two weeks ahead of the five-year average.
Warm temperatures and  abundant moisture kept the crop in very good condition throughout the season, averaging 85 percent good to excellent from May 8 through August 7. Oats headed out about a week ahead of the five-year average.
Frequent rains slowed late-summer fieldwork, keeping the pace of harvest close to both the average and the previous year. By Sept. 11, 98 percent of oats were harvested, two percentage points ahead of the five-year average.

Winter wheat

The warm weather in March helped the winter wheat crop start the season with 79 percent in good to excellent condition, well above the previous year's mark of 52 percent.
Wheat conditions improved slowly, but steadily, despite variable snow cover and occasional freezes during Ap0ril and early May. It continued to improve through the summer months, averaging 86 percent good to excellent for the season.
The crop matured quickly, trending at least a week ahead of the previous year, with harvest activities underway during the week ending July 10, also a week ahead of 2015, and reached 98 percent complete on August 21. 
Although fall planting of the 2017 crop started out ahead of the previous year, frequent rains and delays to do other fieldwork slowed progress in September and October.
Above normal fall temperatures helped keep the crop in very good condition going into the winter season, holding an average of 82 percent good to excellent from mid-October through the end of November.


Potato planting got underway in early April, thanks to an early snow thaw. Planting proceeded slightly behind the 2015 planting pace, and reached 97 percent complete on May 29.
The crop's condition rating averaged 92 percent good to excellent for the season, peaking at 97 percent good to excellent on June 19 and declining slowly throughout the frequent rains of July and August.
The limited number of days suitable for fieldwork kept the potato harvest one to two weeks behind the 2015 harvest pace. Some fields were not harvested due to muddy conditions, the report noted.


Alfalfa handled last winter quite well. As of May 15, winter freeze damage to alfalfa was rated 1 percent severe, 3 percent moderate and 19 percent light. There was no damage to the remaining 77 percent of alfalfa stands, up from 72 percent undamaged the previous year.
Abundant heat and moisture kept the crop growing quickly throughout the spring and summer, though frequent rains in July, August and September interfered with baling dry hay.
All four cuttings of alfalfa ran ahead of both the five-year average and the 2015 haying season, replacing 2015 as the second fastest harvest pace in the past 35 years. The 2016 cuttings came in about a week behind the record early haying season of 2012.
Warm fall weather allowed widespread access to a fourth and even fifth crop of alfalfa, and left stands in good shape to overwinter. The season average for hay condition was 87 percent good to excellent, compared to 80 percent good to excellent for the 2015 season.


Thanks to March's warm weather, Wisconsin’s pastures started off in considerably better condition than average. On April 3, 51 percent of pastures were in good to excellent condition, compared to a five-year average of 27 percent good to excellent.
Condition plateaued after mid-May's late frosts, but began to trend upward again in mid-June. Pastures averaged 75 percent in good to excellent condition from May through October, compared to 69 percent good to excellent in 2015.
To top it off, this year's unusually warm weather in October and November kept pastures suitable for grazing well into the fall season.

Overall, the 2016 growing season was a dandy as crops, like this corn field on July 19, flourished with the abundant warmth and moisture.